Influence of atmospheric CO2 on the decline of C4 plants during the last deglaciation

TitleInfluence of atmospheric CO2 on the decline of C4 plants during the last deglaciation
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1994
AuthorsCole DR, H. Monger C
JournalNature
Volume368
Pagination533-536
Date Published1994
Call Number00635
Keywordsarticle, articles, calcium carbonate, carbon isotope ratios, geomorphology,atmospheric CO2, journal, journals, paleoclimate,CO2 variations, plant community, CO2 variations, plant,C4, soil,atmospheric CO2
AbstractChanges in atmospheric carbon dioxcide concentrations in the past may have caused changes in vegetation type, and it has been suggested that the isotopic signature of such vegetation shifts, preserved in palaeosols, might be used as a proxy for past CO2 variations. But the connection between palaeosol isotopic signatures and atmospheric CO2 concentrations has been difficult to establish, partly because of the unreliability of CO2 proxies and partly becuase of the difficulty in ruling out other potential causes of vegetation changes, such as climate. Here we present palaeosol carbon isotope ratios that reveal a shift from C4-dominated grasses to C3-dominated shrubs about 7-9 kyr ago on an alluvial fan system in the Chihuahuan desert, New Mexico. This coincides with a rapid increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration recorded in Antarctic ice cores and increased aridity recorded by geomorphic reconstructions and packrat remains. Palaeosol oxygen isotope ratios, which depend on temperature and moisture, were relatively constant during the vegetation shift, suggesting that the CO2 change, rather than climate, was the dominant cause. We conclude that the carbon isotope ratios of ancient soils can indeed be used as a proxy for past CO2 changes.